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After a few days in Tunis, I pressed on to Sousse, a resort town about two hours down the coast from Tunis. It has a very long beach with calm and shallow water. The corniche (boardwalk) is lined with all-inclusive hotels and inexpensive restaurants. I stopped in Sousse just so I could swim in the Mediterranean, but I decided to stay there for my whole trip. I did a lot of moving around in Morocco. Two days in Tangier, one in Fez, one in Marrakech, three in Agadir, and so on. I was getting tired of carrying my luggage around... Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2010 at 2010
I wandered through the medina for a few hours and came out on the northern end; I was in a large modern commercial district. After a few minutes, I walked past an old-fashioned barber shop. My hair was getting a little long so I went in for a cut. The shop was small and narrow. There was room enough for two old-fashioned barber's chairs and a pair of plastic seats for waiting customers. The shop already had one customer, a big Arab man in his 40s. He was heavy-set, like a bouncer, and had his shirt halfway off. He was... Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2010 at 2010
I got into Tunis airport a little after midnight and got to my hotel at 1:00. Like the cities in Morocco, central Tunis is divided into the old Medina and the modern Ville Nouveau. Bad experiences in the medinas of Fez and Tangier had convinced me to get a hotel in the Ville Nouveau. The old and new parts of town are right next to each other, so I could stay in a comfy modern hotel while still only a twenty-minute walk from the twisty and lively medina streets. I had a problem in Tunis-I hadn't read the travel guide.... Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2010 at 2010
I didn't go to Casablanca for tourism. I went there to catch a flight to Tunis. I don't have much to report about the city. I did find one interesting thing in the brochure for my hotel. It's written in Arabic, French, and some really badly translated English. I quote: Hotel du Louvre founded in 1936 besfore World War II, is a historical Monument when has hasted some very important personalities such as the Poet Moufdi Zakaria who composed the Algerian National Hymen. So if you ever get see an Algerian hymen, think of Moufdi Zakaria. Now off to Tunis. Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2010 at 2010
I woke up early so I could take pictures of the sunrise. It was anti-climactic. The terrain was mostly flat, but there was a tall mountain due east of us. The sun was hidden behind the mountain until it well up into the sky. As day broke the sky took a light pink tint for about twenty minutes, then it turned a clear blue that it kept all day. So much for a dramatic desert sunrise. I still managed to snap some good shots of the landscape. As always, my photos are at http://www.flickr.com/gringracho. We'd driven for 9 hours to... Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2010 at 2010
Our desert tour was the highlight of my trip. We booked an overnight trip through Moroccan Views. I'd recommend that company to anyone. The bus picked us up in the morning after picking up two groups of tourists at other hotels. There were eleven of us in all. Our guide was named Mustafa. One of our group affectionately nicknamed him The Lion King. Abdul was our driver. He was pretty quiet the whole trip; partly because he didn't speak English; mostly because he had to concentrate on the twisty Moroccan roads. Moustafa took a liking to a pair of American... Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2010 at 2010
Kit's quite a hard bargainer. His initial offers were about a fourth of what the shop owners offered. As they went down in price, he went up and down and up again. One shop owner asked 500 dirhams for a small glass lamp. Kit offered 100, then 125, 150, down to 75, then 100 again. They finally settled at 130. I think I'll send him to negotiate the next time I make a purchase. In the evening, we wandered around Place Jemma al Fna. The plaza had come alive with henna artists, snake charmers, amateur boxers, drummers, trumpeters, singers, and... Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2010 at 2010
I arrived back in Marrakesh on Friday, a day before Kit arrived. I had booked a night at the same hostel I stayed at before. Before I went to Agadir, I told the owner that a friend and I would be in Marrakesh from Saturday to Tuesday. I asked him to reserve beds for us, and he confirmed that he had space. I hadn't told him that I would be back on Friday, so I booked that day on the web while I was in Agadir. When I got there, the owner told me they didn't have any beds for... Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2010 at 2010
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Mar 15, 2010
Marakesh is much larger than Fez or Tangier, and the medina is much larger as well. There's a far larger number of foreign tourists running around and far fewer pushy touts. That seems ironic to me. In places with more tourists, I would expect to see more people following them around. But there are hardly any touts cruising the streets. The shop owners gave the hard sell, of course. But even they were less pushy than the people I'd met in Tangier and Fez. In those places I thought I'd have to punch some people to get them to leave... Continue reading
Posted Mar 11, 2010 at 2010
I left Fez and bought a ticket to Marakesh. I bought a first-class train ticket this time. The difference was like night and day. Everybody got a seat. Even better everybody got an assigned seat. The coaches had air conditioning, and snacks were served throughout the trip. I wasn't approached by touts. On the first leg of the trip, I met a man from Mauritania. Tall and thin with dark black skin, he wore traditional dress: a long white robe and a white scarf around his neck. From what I gathered with my poor French, he had gone to Fez... Continue reading
Posted Mar 11, 2010 at 2010
I left Tangier after a day. One day in the city was enough to get a feel for it. I was anxious to see Fez. I got to the train station and asked for a ticket to Fez. The cashier sold me a second-class ticket for 105 dirhams, about $12. Not bad for a six-hour trip. The lines out of Tangier were flooded, so we took a bus to Kenitra, near Casablanca. Note: The bus was scheduled to leave at 11:00, but we took off at 10:30. At the Kenitra train station, I waited on the platform for my train.... Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2010 at 2010
I booked a riad in the Kasbah in the Tangier medina. A little vocabulary: Medina is the Arabic word for town. Today it usually means the old town, the historic center of a modern city. The medina in Tangier was the extent of the original city and retains a medieval Arab ambience. Narrow, twisting streets, old brick walls, crowded shops, vibrance amidst decay. This is what the medina is like. Kasbah is an Arab word that can mean a fortress or a palace. I believe it's where we got the English word “castle.” Prior to the Crusades, European castles were... Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2010 at 2010
Now it was time to leave Spain. I took almost every form of transportation possible. No planes and no camels, but everything in between. A walk to the town center, then a taxi to the Granada train station. I bought a ticket to Algeciras but the railway was flooded partway there. So after two hours on a train I got off and boarded a bus to the coast. Once there, I bought a ferry ticket for Tangier. The Algeciras-Tangier ferry didn't leave until 9:30 at night and it's an hour crossing. The cashier sold me a ticket for Tarifa-Tangier, which... Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2010 at 2010
Finally, the place I'd come here to visit. La Alhambra. I won't get into a long description on La Alhambra's history or what it looks like. A thousand travel writers have described it far better than I ever could. I will say that the road up to La Alhambra is steep and long but worth the effort. It winds up the mountain at something like a 30 degree incline. Note the benches by path: The seat is level, but the right leg is twice as long as the left. I imagined I was a Moorish rebel fighting my way to... Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2010 at 2010
I stayed out late buying drinks and munching on free tapas. When I found a place that sold Corona, I couldn't help but down a few. We finished the night in a Chinese tapas bar. I called it the Dim Sum place, because I think tapas and dim sum have the same idea—try a little bit of everything. By the way, “rejo” is not short for “cangrejo.” At the Chinese tapas place, I recognized everything on the menu expect “rejo.” I'd never heard of that dish before, so naturally I had to try it. Cangrejo is Spanish for crab. I... Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2010 at 2010
New week, new month, day 13 of the big trip. Today was a holiday in Andalucía, celebrating the region's designation as an autonomous region. There weren't any big festivals, but there were a lot of people out enjoying their day off. I was told that the Alhambra would be filled with tourists today, so I decided to save that sight for later. The Oasis hotel offers two walking tours from local guides. Both are outstanding. The first is a general tour of the city. The guide—a young Englishman; I can't for the life of me remember his name—gives an excellent... Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2010 at 2010
The above-mentioned floods slowed my trip to Granada. I was scheduled to arrive by train at 9pm. I arrived at 10. I checked in at Hostel Oasis, a relaxed place near Plaza Nueva. The streets around Oasis were part of old Moorish Granada. They have the same twisting plan I've seen in modern Arab towns in the Levant. It's easy—but fun—to get lost in the narrow streets. The pedestrianized cobblestone walkways are about big enough for three people to walk abreast. The side streets are little narrower. The streets are lined with Arab restaurants and souvenir stands. It's a little... Continue reading
Posted Mar 3, 2010 at 2010
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As in Madrid, I booked a train for the evening so I could spend the day in Córdoba. There's not much to see in the city—the Alcazár with its beautiful gardens, the Tower of Calahora with it commanding view of the city—but it's a beautiful place to wander. I spent most of the day walking up and down both sides of the Rio Guadalqivir (if you can pronounce that, tell your Spanish professor to give you an A). In the last few weeks, Anadlucía has seen the worst rains in the last 40 years. Many cities including Córdoba suffered severe... Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2010 at 2010
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Today was my day to visit La Gran Mezquita-Catedral, the ancient mosque/cathedral in Córdoba's old Moorish center. I should call it Granada's church/mosque/cathedral. The site was originally a Visigothan church. When Muslim forces conquered the city, they bought the church from the locals and converted it into a mosque. In 1236 Spanish armies reconquered the city but left the mosque in place. Three hundred years later, King Carlos V converted the mosque into a Catholic cathedral. He commissioned frescoes of Mary and the Saints all around the exterior. In 1523, he built a huge Baroque chapel right in the middle... Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2010 at 2010
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“Ahí me voy otra vez. Ahi te dejo Madrid!” I sang Shakira as the train took off. The AVE train gets from Madrid to Córdoba in less than 2 hours. I got into Córdoba a little after 10 on Friday night. I went to the Hostal Alcázar. I'll call it Hostal de Las Puerta Rotas, or Broken Door Hotel. None-I mean none-of the doors worked. The hotel has two buildings, each with its own exterior door. The door to my building was jammed. I had to ram the door with my shoulder to get it open. When I got checked... Continue reading
Posted Feb 28, 2010 at 2010
I didn't mention my trip down the stairs, did I? The Cat's Hostel has two floors. The lobby is on the ground floor, and the rooms are upstairs, accessible by a steep staircase. The wooden staircase goes up about twenty steps to a small platform before it turns left and goes up about twenty steps more. This morning (Friday) I was checking out. I had to take my bags downstairs where the staff would hold them until I left for the train station. I'm on a six-month trip, so my bag is big, really big. This orange and black duffel... Continue reading
Posted Feb 28, 2010 at 2010
I said earlier that I would go back to the Prado and look at the works of El Greco. I said I wanted to explore the link between El Greco and Picasso. I didn't make it back to the Prado, but I was right about the Greco/Picasso connection. Actually, it's something that Picasso himself acknowledged in his painting. Since I don't have any training in art, I'm quite proud of myself for finding the connection on my own. Unlike my trip to the Prado, in the Reina Sofia I focused on one area—Cubism, especially “Guernica.” I never really understood Cubism,... Continue reading
Posted Feb 28, 2010 at 2010
Friday was my day to leave Madrid. I booked a train for the evening so I could spend the day in the city. Two of the girls I met last night—Audra from Australia and Brittany from the States--were on their way to El Convento de la Encarnacion. I decided to join them. The convent started as a home for Spanish princesses. In the 1500's, it was turned into a home for Spanish nuns (many of whom were also princesses). Today it's a convent and museum with holy relics and famous works of art. The art wasn't very interesting to me,... Continue reading
Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 2010
I spent Thursday relaxing. I got a private room at the hostel and slept for a little while. I was still fuming over the last few days. In the evening I went to the lobby to chat with the guests. I'd forgotten what was so great about staying in hostels—you meet people from all over the world. There was a bunch of English Rugby players wandering around the hostel. They were totally shit-faced. Two of them were walking around naked. Of all the things that I wanted see in Madrid, flacid English cock was not on the list. Three others... Continue reading
Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 2010